In a decision released last month, an Ontario Court judge condemned a “culture of complacency” within Norfolk OPP that resulted in charges being dropped against an Ohsweken man.
Dillon James Miller, 29, successfully applied to have charges from Feb. 28, 2017, including stealing a vehicle and disqualified driving, dropped due to the fact that it took 16 months to charge him.
Justice Aubrey Hilliard laid the blame at the feet of the officer in charge of the original investigation and his two superior officers.
“Given the failure of (the officer) to act on direct instructions from a superior officer and the clear lack of protocols to ensure that an officer’s dereliction of duty was discovered and remedied … I find that there was a culture of complacency at the Norfolk OPP detachment from July 2017 to September 2018,” said Hilliard in her Simcoe decision.
She added that anything short of staying the charges would look like the court was condoning the “dereliction of duty” shown by police and would send a message to the public that the judiciary doesn’t hold police to account.
“This is one of those rare cases in which it is abundantly clear when the police should have laid the information charging Mr. Miller.”
Insp. Joseph Varga, who took over as Norfolk OPP detachment commander in June 2018, declined to specify whether any disciplinary steps were taken involving the three named officers but said the service respects the decision of the court.
“Given the size of the OPP service, serious breaches of the law or behavioural standards are rare. The OPP is proud of its members and their exemplary service,” Varga said in an email.
Miller is no stranger to police in this area.
In vehicle-related incidents, Six Nations Police chased him in January 2017 and Halton police chased him along the QEW in April 2017.
But between those incidents, Miller was accused of stealing a Pontiac Sunfire near Delhi in February 2017 and setting fire to another vehicle.
Miller was identified as a suspect within days and blood was swabbed from the steering wheel of a vehicle and sent for testing.
On July 12, 2017, a detective received confirmation that the DNA was that of Miller and the detective sent that to the investigating officer for follow-up. He also notified his two platoon sergeants.
Nothing else was done. The officer testified he was “standing by” and then concluded someone else would deal with the issue.
Almost exactly a year later, the investigating officer was due to retire and his outstanding cases were reviewed, including Miller’s.
The case went to a new detective who, in the fall of 2018, quickly wrote a DNA warrant which was sworn and authorized in October and executed on Nov. 2, 2018. The detective also found there were witnesses mentioned in the first report, but no formal statements had ever been taken.
Almost 16 months had passed since Miller’s DNA was confirmed in connection to the crime.
Miller’s lawyer argued that her client, who was in jail for 17 months, working with three lawyers on 112 charges in various jurisdictions, would have been able to roll the additional charges from Feb. 28, 2017 into that process.
Instead, three days before his release date of Nov. 5, 2018, with plans for rehabilitation and getting back to his community, Miller was hit with the new charges.
Assistant Crown attorney Lynette Fritzley argued the delay in charging him didn’t breach any charter rights and that a single officer’s admitted mistake shouldn’t amount to an abuse of process.
Fritzley said the public would be outraged if a DNA case was stayed because an officer was careless in the reading of his emails.
But Miller’s lawyer, Genevieve Eliany, said her client’s right to a fair trial had been violated.
“The decision correctly points out that many of Mr. Miller’s offences likely would have been prevented had he been arrested in July 2017 when police had grounds to charge him,” said Eliany in an email.
“The public expects that criminal acts will be prosecuted but they also expect this will happen in a timely manner.”
The Supreme Court ruled an accused must get a speedy trial after being charged but it’s relatively rare to see an abuse of process case made on a too-lengthy pre-charge period.
“It’s a high threshold so the state behaviour has to be egregious.”
The judge said it was “disingenuous” to expect the memories of either Miller or any witnesses would be still sharp two years later, especially since Miller was involved in a series of similar incidents at that time.
“(The officer) described this failure as a mistake. Counsel for Mr. Miller described it as negligence. I find that (it) can be best described as a dereliction of duty, which by definition can be purposeful or accidental,” said Hilliard, going on to laud the efficiency of the officer who took over the case.
“I cannot but conclude there was, at minimum, a culture of complacency at the Norfolk OPP detachment … as whatever oversight procedures may have been in place at the time resulted in (the failure) not being discovered until almost 12 months after the fact.”
Hilliard said the entire problem only came to light due to the retirement of the original officer and a new platoon sergeant taking control.
“By allowing the proceedings to continue … the court would be sending the message to the public that the judiciary condones and excuses police dereliction of duty.”
Miller is back in court facing new charges of disqualified driving, assault with a weapon, and assault police from May 30.https://www.brantfordexpositor.ca/news/ ... ed-charges